Demetrious Johnson was impressive last night (Sat., July 27, 2013), retaining his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight championship and, in the process, turning in his best performance inside the Octagon to date with a fifth round submission (armbar) of John Moraga in UFC on FOX 8 main event.
In a bout where Johnson dominated with brilliantly-timed takedowns and a brisk work rate, the valiant but outmatched Moraga was the victim of "Mighty Mouse" experience and conditioning. Defending in his hometown of Seattle, Wash., inside KeyArena, Johnson's second 125-pound title defense showed a champion who is improving on his already-considerable mixed martial arts (MMA) skills.
The co-main event was a large dud, with Rory MacDonald taking a unanimous decision over Jake Ellenberger in a Welterweight bout where neither man opened up on the feet. In a tepid affair where the only consistent, meaningful strikes were MacDonald's sharp jabs, Ellenberger was simply unable to close the gap and land his trademark haymakers.
In a 170-pound contender elimination bout with a title shot possibly on the line for the winner, it was a definite letdown, especially considering the excitement that presaged the match between two of the sport's most exciting talents.
That being said, life isn't always perfect, so let's take a closer look at the performers (and non-performers) with the UFC on Fox 8: "Johnson vs. Moraga" report card.
Here we go:
Demetrious Johnson: A+
In the nascent Flyweight division, you couldn't get a more likeable champion than Johnson, whose work ethic, cerebral approach and consistency make him a great ambassador for a division whose competitors demand respect. And last night, he really brought his A game in dispatching a tough challenger. Making his characteristic subtle adjustments, Johnson consistently applied his advantages, using slick movements and wonderfully fast takedown shots to break down Moraga over a taxing five-round championship distance.
Well ahead on the cards, he didn't cruise to a decision, either, using a nice kimura-to-armbar set up to slam home the finishing submission 3:43 into the fifth and final round. With two title defenses under his belt, Johnson's really giving fans a worthwhile glimpse at another kind of MMA, one that is the antithesis of the heavyweights: Battles between two well-conditioned athletes who have to be versed in all phases of the game.
Plus, he's as likeable a guy as you'll meet in the sport.
A rematch with Joseph Benavidez is the UFC's obvious big-time goal for the division. And with both showing steady improvement in each outing, it's going to be a lot of fun if and when the two finally dance again.
Robbie Lawler: A
Lawler has always been a treat to watch because he approaches every opponent with the same game plan, hoping to take their heads off. With every strike, he's all-in, hoping to land a fight-changing bomb. Recent outings have revealed more confidence in his kicking game, and he landed some solid ones against Bobby Voelker, including the finishing whack that dropped his foe for the knockout (after a smashing insurance punch to the face, of course, in classic Lawler fashion).
This win, coupled with his huge dismantling of Josh Koscheck since his return to the Octagon, have put Lawler solidly back on the Welterweight map. Coupled with excellent takedown defense and explosive strength, Lawler's striking makes him an incredibly dangerous guy, especially if you make a mistake.
Plus, with his solid chin and willingness to bang, he's never going to play the points game and will always be looking to force exchanges. Personally, I'm hoping the UFC pits him against the dangerous Erick Silva next. I'd probably pay more to watch that fight than 99 percent of the possible match ups in the sport.
Liz Carmouche: A-
Carmouche proved her excellent performance in nearly upsetting Ronda Rousey was no fluke, steamrolling her way to a second-round knockout over a game, but overmatched, Jessica Andrade. Seemingly undersized for 135 pounds, Carmouche's conditioning and aggressiveness make up for it, as she simply outworked Andrade, putting herself back in the elite among the UFC's sole female division.
Rory MacDonald: B
The old motto is to "Win this fight and look good in the next one," and MacDonald stuck to that premise after learning early on that his rangy jab and footwork negated Ellenberger's two-fisted, come-forward attack. Outside of an Ellenberger takedown late in the final round, MacDonald was never really threatened, and he should be given credit for the tactical smarts to know he was piling up a points advantage, essentially making Ellenberger adjust to change the momentum, which "The Juggernaut" didn't.
However, this was definitely a dud in terms of promoting MacDonald for a title shot against the Georges St. Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks winner. A bland performance shouldn't scuttle the incredible things MacDonald's done in his UFC career, but last night he was teed up to deliver big against a credible contender and he didn't.
The guess here is that MacDonald will much more exciting his next time around, especially if he gets the chance at revenge against Carlos Condit. And if Lawler is available, that's a no-brainer.
John Moraga: B-
Challenging a vexing champ like Johnson is a difficult assignment, and to Moraga's credit, he went through a lot of hell before finally submitting in the final round to the armbar.
It wasn't as though he fell badly behind early, or was knocked off the rails by a debilitating bomb at some point. He simply couldn't match Johnson's taxing work rate, nor apply his advantages in striking power or height. And despite better wrestling credentials "on paper," the former two-time Arizona State University (ASU) All-American was completely owned by Johnson in that department, with the champ hitting an eye-popping 11 for 11 takedowns.
Moraga found himself in bad positions constantly as a result, but kept battling out. But, as his energy waned, Johnson only seemed to get stronger, landing the finishing submission when Moraga simply had nowhere to escape.
Now 13-2, and with his first experience beyond three rounds under his belt, Moraga -- like previous Johnson challenger John Dodson -- figures to build on it. He had a few good moments, especially in the fourth, when he bashed Johnson with a huge right hand only to see the speedy champ finesse his way out of trouble.
With more big-fight experience against top flyweights, Moraga will definitely be back. But, last night, he was beaten by the better fighter, plain and simple. And a lot of flyweights are learning that in trying to best "Mighty Mouse."
Jake Ellenberger: C
"The Juggernaut" knew there were problems early against MacDonald, and you could see it on his face every time "Ares" popped a long jab into it. He couldn't get into range for early takedowns, and his big punches mostly whiffed as MacDonald smartly slid away or blocked them.
If two guys are in a boring fight, but both know one is obviously winning (especially in a three-rounder, where there's little time to bullshit oneself), the onus is on the losing fighter to make adjustments. That was Ellenberger and he didn't until it was too late. Scoring a takedown in the final moments of the third was impressive, but he couldn't do much with it as MacDonald simply negated him with solid Brazilian jiu-jitsu, content to ride out the clock.
Ellenberger remains one of the most talented welterweights on the roster, but last night he was pretty much shut down by a guy with a better-rounded skill set. The fact that it happened on the big stage with high expectations, in terribly boring fashion, probably stings worse than the loss itself.
Bobby Voelker: C-
You could be harder on Voelker, grade-wise, but Lawler is a pretty terrible style match up for him, and to his credit, he took the fight on a little more than two week's notice. Everything Voelker does, Lawler simply does better. Much better. With rudimentary striking and a wrestling deficit, Voelker simply couldn't implement a game plan, was busted up early and finished brutally in the second. The UFC always remembers guys who step up to fill in for scratched fighters, so I expect he'll be rewarded against a better style ... maybe someone like Sean Pierson.
Jessica Andrade: D
A UFC debut is always a challenge, especially against a hard-nosed veteran like Carmouche. Andrade was overwhelmed early and never really could discourage Carmouche, and her stand up was insufficient to establish the distance she needed to avoid tie-ups and clinches. A disappointing loss, but given the UFC's thin ranks as it builds its women's roster, she'll definitely be back.
For complete UFC on FOX 8: Johnson vs. Moraga event coverage be sure to check out our comprehensive results stream right here.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst